Dear Your Doctorship,
I was hoping you might help me out from the lady side of the spectrum with a few tips for approaching nerd-inclined men.
I have a great boyfriend. He’s a smart, nice person who listens to me, is generally up for my crazy schemes, and can put on a fantastic “that’s so… interesting” face (despite being totally inwardly squicked) when dealing with my racist parents. I give him all the brownie points and more for this. Physically, however, we’re not as evenly matched. I’m much more stereotypically “hot” while bullies have likened him to a black Henry VIII. He’s very aware of this, and more than one date has ended with him getting prickly when other guys hit on me.
This general ambient thing has become more of a Thing thing recently. I have a guy friend (say, James) who, about 4 years ago, expressed an interest in me. I was a bit interested in him back, but didn’t pursue it because he’s kind of a player and that’s not my cup of tea. (I met current BF at a Magic draft, you really think I’m going to be hitting up some club-trawling finance guy??) Current BF knows I was interested briefly but that nothing ever happened. James and BF know each other because they went to school together, and James has made no secret of the fact that he thinks I can do better. Oh, yes, James can be kind of an asshole.
I don’t really mind the fact that James is an asshole because he’s never been an asshole to me personally. Him hating everyone around me is a him problem, not a me problem. We’re still friends because I figure the only relationships I’m entitled to police are the ones that directly involve me. BF disagrees, and finds my refusal to cut off contact evidence of agreement with James despite my having repeatedly assured him of the contrary. The funny thing is, if forced to choose between James and BF I’d pick BF. But I don’t think I should be asked to make that choice and someone who tries to control who I can be friends with is an automatic dealbreaker. Because of this, BF knows better than to dare ask. Meanwhile, the elephant lurks in the room. Besides, I don’t want to stop being friends with James because I still find the not-asshole parts of him interesting and valuable. I think I should be allowed to both date BF AND be friends with James/assholes in general without the two intersecting. This stance, however, is causing a lot of tension with BF.
Am I in the wrong here? Should I arrange my friendships around my current BF’s anxieties? Is there any way he’ll ever believe that I chose him *over* James, and that James’s opinions about it don’t matter? Or is this completely unfixable?
Yours in Hope,
Having and Eating Cake
This is what we in the advice-giving business call “kismet”. Over at my column at Kotaku, I answered a reader’s question that could almost be the other side of your question, HaEC. And there’s some not-insignificant crossover between your concerns.
See, the most obvious issue comes down to insecurity – your boyfriend knowing that to the outside observer (and, y’know, himself) he’s punching outside his weight-class and worrying that at some point you’re going to realize it too and drop him like a sportsball reference I don’t actually understand. The randos who think that they’re firmly entitled to roll up on you and try to snatch you away from him just drives that feeling home over and over again. To him, it’s a never-ending parade of people who want to reinforce the idea that the princess doesn’t, in fact, marry the cave troll. The fact that FinanceDudeBro is riding in like Studly GoodNight and hanging around with you just throws fuel on the fire. it’s hard enough when it’s complete strangers. When it’s your girlfriend’s friend… well, it’s difficult not to think of him as the “In Case of Emergency” dick.
Now normally, I’d say that yes, it’s unreasonable for your honey-bunny to police your friends; you aren’t his property, he isn’t your property and the two of you have a right to your own friends and lives outside of the relationship. In fact, having friendships and lives outside of the relationship is a key to maintaining a long and happy relationship. His being worried about not being “hot enough” is an entirely understandable anxiety – we’re served message after message about how only the pretty people get to date other pretty people – and he’s been watching dudes just straight up try to cuckold him all this time. What we don’t get is the message that when we love our partners – men and women – we love all of them; they may not be an Adonis to the world, but knowing them makes them beautiful to us. Now the fact that you’re with him and not those other guys should be a sign that yes, you’ve chosen him, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be remind him that you’ve chosen him, that you love him and why.
But then we get to James, the FinancialDudeBro. And the fact that, frankly, he’s an asshole. It’s not surprising that he’s not being an overt asshole to you – he’s made it pretty clear that he wants to bang you. But he is a dick to everyone around you, and that does affect you, whether you realize it or not.
See, asshole friends are like nuclear waste; no matter how tightly it’s sealed, there’s always the likelihood of it leak. If you keep it in a populated area, it will inevitably taint the water table. The only way to safely store it is in an incredibly secure facility; a social circle equivalent of Yucca Mountain. And even then, sometimes MUTOs break in and wreck the place.
The only way for an asshole’s tendency to ass to be contained is if there’s absolutely no overlap in social circles; if he does come in contact with the other social circles, there’s almost always a contamination issue. And that’s exactly what’s happening here: his asshole behavior is seeping out and contaminating the people around you. You don’t think it’s your business to police people’s behavior that doesn’t affect you… except his dickbaggery is affecting you.
James is in contact with your boyfriend. James has been making it abundantly clear that he thinks you need to ditch the zero and get with the hero. This isn’t a case of a friend with a crush or someone who’s interested in you but doesn’t feel like he needs to act on that attraction. He is actively trying to undermine your relationship with your boyfriend with his “you can do better” bullshit.
Can you see why your boyfriend is less than pleased that you’re palling around with him? This isn’t just a case of “I’m threatened by this person’s existence.” This guy is directly trying to interfere with your life.
And the part that is really irritating? James is being an asshole to you too. That whole “you can do so much better” bullshit isn’t him worried that you’re with someone who’s bad for you or that this relationship is just going to end with you getting needlessly hurt. He’s telling you that you don’t know how to pick a boyfriend. Everything you love about your boyfriend? He’s telling you that you’re wrong and none of it matters because nobody’s slick like Gaston or as quick as Gaston. He has no respect for you or your choices and he feels empowered to criticize and carp and undermine your relationship – especially since he’s hoping to pick up the pieces afterwards. Because believe me: if you do break up with your boyfriend, James is going to be right there, waiting to take advantage of that first moment of vulnerability.
In the end, I’m left with a lot of questions. Why is it’s ok to have an asshole in your life as long as he’s not directly an asshole to you? You say James’ non-asshole parts are interesting and valuable. I’m have to wonder interesting and valuable James can be that makes it acceptable that h disrespects you and hates everyone around you. I’m wondering just what it is he brings to the table that is apparently makes the tension and misery with your boyfriend an acceptable price to pay to keep James in your life.
You’re the only one who can answer that. Whether or not your boyfriend ever asks, you do have a choice to make.